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Lobbying reform amendments target tribes

Although Washington's push for lobbying reform has weakened in recent weeks, tribes and Alaska Native corporations face new requirements under amendments being considered in the Senate.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, members of both political parties vowed to change the way business is done in the nation's capitol. But debate stalled in the Senate earlier this month over an unrelated issue while the House has yet to consider the issue due to disagreements among Republicans.

The Senate is set to briefly return to lobbying reform when Congress returns to work on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) plans to call a vote on one amendment before moving onto other matters, according to Roll Call.

The amendment -- to establish an independent ethics commission to oversee members of Congress -- is just one of many under review in the Senate. Three of the amendments target tribes, whose political contributions and lobbying activities have been scrutinized as a result of Abramoff.

The first amendment, offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), would require tribes and Alaska Native corporations to report their campaign contributions for the first time. Tribes and corporations that make more than $1,000 in donations will have to disclose their activities every quarter.

The report must contain all contributions to "candidates, political committees, and federal accounts of state, district, and local committees," according to the amendment offered on March 9.

The Federal Election Commission, in consultation with the Interior Department, will be authorized to assign each tribe and corporation a unique identifier to keep track of tribal donations. Currently, it is up to the candidates and political action committees to report their tribal contributions.

The second amendment, offered by Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), would go even farther. It imposes limits on tribal campaign contributions, treating them as corporations.

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, tribes are already subject to the same limits as everyone else. But tribes can make an unlimited total amount of contributions, putting them in the same category as political action committees, partnerships and certain liability companies.

Vitter's amendment, introduced on March 6, singles tribes out of that bunch by limiting them to $101,400 in donations during a two-year period. Tribes could get around this restriction by forming their own political action committees and reporting their donations to the FEC.

The third amendment, offered by McCain on March 9, applies to the lobbying activities of tribal employees who used to work for the federal government. Tribal employees will be allowed to lobby their former bosses as long as they submit, in writing, documentation of any involvement they may have had in the matter while they were employed by the government.

This amendment puts tribal employees in a different category than registered lobbyists, who are affected by a separate bill introduced by McCain. That bill would bar registered lobbyists who used to work for the government from lobbying their former bosses for a period of one year.

McCain's FEC proposal is labeled Senate Amendment 2974 while the tribal employee provision is labeled Senate Amendment 2973. Vitter's proposal is labeled Senate Amendment 2908.

House Republicans have repeatedly promised to introduce their own lobbying reform but have been unable to come an agreement since the start of the year. But Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) has introduced a bill to subject tribes to campaign contribution limits.

Text of Amendments:
Tribal-Related Amendments to Lobbying Reform Bill (March 24, 2006)

Senate Lobbying Reform Bill:
Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006 (S.2349) | Section-by-Section Summary

Other Lobbying Reform Bills:
Sen. McCain: Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2005 (S.2128) | Sen. McCain: Reducing Conflicts of Interests in the Representation of Indian Tribes Act of 2005 (S.1312)